The latest wave of offensive innovation over the past few years has been the adoption of Run-Pass Options. It gives offenses an incredible amount of versatility while giving defensive players, and coordinators, fits trying to defend it all.
Mark Dantonio shared with MLive that seeing so much RPO stuff during the season had him doing some reflection on their defensive philosophy, which led to some serious off season research.
"I think you have to reinvent your philosophy. So a major part of our film study and off the field study has been investigating RPOs. What makes it, how to perform against it, how to perform with them."
Coming off a disappointing 3-9 season, where they struggled especially on the defensive side of the ball - averaging less than a sack a game - Dantonio decided to rearrange his defensive staff in the off season. Linebackers coach Mark Snyder moved down to defensive ends, while defensive line coach Ron Burton shifted to the interior defensive line to focus on the defensive tackles. Co-defensive coordinator Mike Tressel has moved back to working with the linebackers.
Why the change in duties? A look back at a MLive article from back when Dantonio announced the move in the spring points out that part of the reason was to "balance out coach-player ratios," but the other reason behind the move was to better prepare for RPOs.
“What you have right now, you have so many run-pass option plays where there’s a run-pass conflict that the defensive ends really start to be coached differently than inside players. So I felt like we needed to go from a 15-to-1 ratio to more of a 7- or 8-to-1 ratio,” Dantonio shared a few months back.
Dantonio then expanded on the importance of versatility in their defensive ends to defend RPOs the other day to MLive.
"I just felt like defensive ends with all the RPOs right now, you know, they're becoming a little bit more of a hybrid player. Are they big linebackers or, you know, what are they?"
RPOs are bound to become more and more prevalent in the years to come, so defensive coaches will constantly be searching for an answer. Some guys opt to play man-to-man to limit the productivity of RPOs, while others may start to see the logic in Dantonio's approach, while others will try something completely different.
It will be interesting to see what tactics, schemes, and approaches defensive coordinators continue to utilize.